Zapfino and other decorative fonts cause harm

Typeface choice is important.

Decisions made on legibility, readability, aesthetic appropriateness and even personal favourites inform a designer’s choice.
Choosing one on its life saving ability however doesn’t rank high on the meter, but:

Bad typefaces can kill.

A bold claim - but when it comes to health education and user instructions font choice is especially important, as researchers Song1 and Manly et al2 found. Typefaces that are hard to read stop a user engaging with the information. When that is the difference between someone taking their full course of diabetic medicine correctly and not, it can have huge implications.

How the user interacts with the typeface directly influences their perceived difficulty of carrying out the information. Making the behaviour:

  • take longer to complete
  • be less familiar
  • require more skill to complete

This effect even extends to simple instructions. In one study, Brawley and DuCharme3 wrote the same exercise routine in two different typefaces. They found that where the type was more legible, the exercise was perceived to be quicker to complete, at 8 minutes. Compared to a less legible, 15 minutes.

Passages used in Brawley and DuCharme's study4

Why is this?

In psychological terms, it all comes down to fluency. How easy something is to think about (cognitive fluency) and how easily information is processed (perceptual fluency).
By choosing a typeface that is quicker and clearer to read, a reader thinks:

the instructions are quick to read and easy to understand…
therefore, carrying out the instructions must be quick and easy as well.5

When it comes to people’s behaviour, put simply, if a task feels easy to complete, then people will do it more6.

What does this mean for design?

It will be interesting, on reflection, to see how the current trends for handwritten, calligraphic and script typefaces in both packaging and logo design will affect both brand and user effectiveness. Whether choosing modern typefaces, serifs, sans serifs or free typefaces, considerations on their psychology must be made.

By integrating typeface fluency in your font choice criteria, not only will it make the design more effective, but perceivably more truthful. Perceived truthfulness is great for designing everything from marketing to advertising and product copy.

When it comes to certain applications, it may even save a life.

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References

Form for thought - A blog about design psychology and design thinking for graphic designers, web designers, ui designers, ux and illustrators. Looking into the psychology of colour, user behaviour and advertising psychology.